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The U.S. Department of Labor's Registered Apprenticeship Program Works for Employers and Workers

This week has been proclaimed by President Trump, like President Obama before him, as National Apprenticeship Week. Across the nation, there are approximately 1,000 events and ceremonies honoring and recognizing the successes of the U.S. Department of Labor's Registered Apprenticeship programs for both employers and workers. Almost all ceremonies will honor Registered Apprenticeship programs. Governors, mayors, a range of employers from the building trades to financial services to health care, and even members of Congress are hosting events as a way to honor and advance this tried-and-true solution to workforce training. Earlier this week, Secretary of Labor Acosta convened the inaugural meeting of the president’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion and testified before the House Committee on Education and Workforce that apprenticeships “are not growing at a rate that they could grow.”

But there has been positive movement with the Registered Apprenticeship system for the past three years, and the Department should recognize and advance what has been working. Presently, there are 540,000 current apprentices (a 44 percent increase from 375,000 three years ago), with much of this growth due to a historic federal investment of $265 million, including $185 million in bipartisan funding from Congress for the last two years, not to mention the U.S. Department of Labor’s new outreach efforts to industry. As a result, many states have seen double-digit growth in apprenticeship. Thousands of employers like Siemens, UPS, CVS Health, and those in the building trades, participate in successful Registered Apprenticeship programs and have for many years. The U.S. Department of Labor's Registered Apprenticeship system touts very high outcomes—high completion rates, average wages of $60,000 per year, and job retention rates that are off the charts. Their programs provide a critical strategy for employers to close the much-discussed skills gap, allowing employers to design programs to develop their skilled workforce. The current Registered Apprenticeship program ensures rigor and alignment with industry standards and credentials; critical worker protections; equity in access and participation; and the use of data for determining quality. This is why Registered Apprenticeship is often referred to as the "gold standard" of training programs—setting high industry standards similar to the much-lauded models in Switzerland and Germany that the president discussed with Chancellor Merkel of Germany earlier this year. Companies that use apprenticeship in a variety of industries report higher productivity, higher retention rates, and a substantial return on investment, which is why this program has been rapidly expanding over the last three years into new industries. 

To be sure, the system could use reforms and simplification to engage more employers and workers to this new, old way of training the nation's workforce. And, Jobs for the Future recognizes the importance of having a full spectrum of high-quality work-based learning experiences available to students and workers. We applaud the secretary's efforts and the Task Force charge to reform and simplify the system as it is needed. But to scale this effort and grow in new industries, continued federal investment will be needed. For 80 years, this country has not invested in apprenticeship (until the $265 million of 2015-2016). If you want to bring the system to scale as the secretary has suggested, it will take additional investment, which our European counterparts have recognized.

Just last week, Jobs for the Future hosted an apprenticeship celebration event in Washington, DC in conjunction with the launch of the new Center on Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning. The event recognized a range of promising practices in Registered Apprenticeship, such as Amazon’s growing information technology apprenticeship program serving veterans; Aon, The Hartford, and Zurich Insurance for their transformational apprenticeships in the financial industry; and the North American Building Trades Union for their outreach to diverse populations for apprenticeship opportunities. The celebration also recognized growing high school Registered Apprenticeship programs in Guilford, North Carolina, Colorado, and South Carolina—all of which have worked closely with their state apprenticeship agencies and the U.S. Department of Labor to approve these high-quality programs. These programs work and they work well.   

Over the last three years, U.S. employers have added over 150,000 new apprentices, helping to build on the 80-year history of Registered Apprenticeship. There has been an unprecedented influx of federal funds to expand apprenticeship to new industries and new communities, and the president has promised $200 million more. This has spurred interest, energy, and activity at the state and local levels, and has engaged thousands of new stakeholders in creating a modern apprenticeship infrastructure. We urge the secretary to reform the system and invest in growth as Congress has done, but not to discard the high-quality system of Registered Apprenticeships that has served workers and industry well for more than 80 years.